It is useful for the Christian to understand that the Greek
has four different words that can be translated "love." This is
particularly important in passages which is more than one Greek word, such as in
John 21. One can hardly fault the Greeks for this; as of late, the word love in
the English language has changed meaning quite a bit. So here are the four
Believe it or not, you are actually familiar with this word.
It is the root word in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. (Adelphia
means brothers.) And that describes this type of love quite well: it is the
kind of love that grows between brothers. There are no sexual overtones to
this; this is not about gay rights. Those who have served in the military might
know the phrase, "band of brothers." It is that tight knit feeling
that comes of having served together. The word itself almost carries a flavor
to it: the flavor is warm and friendly. It is not a solemn word; rather, it's
the word you would use when you and your buddies went out to have a beer.
Its most prominent use is in John 21. Christ challenges
Peter with the question, "Do you love me?" The first two times he
does this he uses the more familiar agape; the last time, he descends to the
warm and friendly word phileo.
This word is used of family affection. This is the love that
normally grows up in a functional family. It's interesting to note that in our
time the dysfunctional family seems to have become the norm — At least on
television. We seem to have a shortage of family love.
The only use in the New Testament of this word is in Romans:
Romans 12:10 NASB
Be devoted to one another in brotherly
love; give preference to one another in honor;
no accident that Christians refer to each other as brother and sister. Family
love gives us a model for how the people of God should behave toward one
another. It should be noted that families are not guaranteed a lack of
conflict, but in a functional family the conflict must be resolved. After all,
you have to go on living with these people. The same is true in the church.
Conflict should be resolved because were going to be in the church together
forever. You can now see why Satan loves a good church fight.
Please draw a preliminary distinction here. This is the root
word from which we get "erotic." That word has been corrupted as of
late to include the word "pornographic." In the original Greek this
sense is not there. Rather, this word refers to the passionate love between man
and woman. It is generally considered to be fully emotional. Interestingly, the
Greeks would hold the man in the grip of erotic love was not in his right mind.
Our method of falling in love and then getting married would have been roundly
condemned by the ancients. They would view infatuation as a form of insanity;
if you fell into it, your friends would do their very best to prevent you from
making the mistake of marrying under the influence of this insanity. Since most
marriages were arranged by your parents anyway, it was considered proper for
women to be sequestered until marriage. That way their first passionate
infatuation would be with her husband.
The concept has taken quite a beating in our time because of
its mixture with pornography. But erotic love is not condemned by the
Scripture; for example, Song of Solomon in the Old Testament is an example of
this type of love.
This word, which is used in this passage, is the kind of
love God has for us. You can see that the first three words are not suitable
for God loving us. But what is the difference? I submit to you that the other
three words have one thing in common: they are conditional. You have to have
brothers, family or lover to use the first three. There is a relationship which
is exclusive as well as inclusive. A condition of each type of love is that you
belong to the right group or be the right individual.
God's love for us is unconditional. That is the great
distinction. And as we shall see, it is this love which God commands us to have
toward all mankind. The apostle John will spend quite some time on the subject.
1 John 4:7-8 NASB
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves
is born of God and knows God. (8) The one who
does not love does not know God, for God is love.
Let's take this from the top. It is really useful to
understand God in the philosophical sense. Aquinas broken down this way:
The essence of God is his existence. He is the great "I
am." He must exist so that anything else can exist.
Thus God is his attributes: love, mercy, truth, righteousness,
justice and so on.
Of accidents (a technical term) God the Father has none. But
Jesus had a shoe size.
Take a look at that second bullet. It defines the very
fundamental conflict God has after the fall of man. God unconditionally loves
his creation; meaning that he loves us no matter what we've done. But that's
not the same thing as approving what we have done. But because God is also
righteousness man deserves his punishment. That punishment is death. Sounds
pretty grim, doesn't it?
That's what the cross is about. At the cross, God in the
person of Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins and reconciled us back to
the love of God. That's how much God loves us. The question for us that is,
what are we going to do about it? Are we simply to say, "Gee thanks God,
that was great!" Or do we do something about it?
God intends us to do something about it; namely, he wants us
to become his disciples. A disciple has two major characteristics:
The disciple learns what the master teaches. Being a disciple is
tied up with being a learner, following a teacher. Note that this is the
old-fashioned kind of learning; it's personal, not a lecture session in the
The disciple also follows what his master teaches. In other
words, this is not a purely academic course of study but a transformation of
the disciple. The objective is not just a learned disciple, but an active one.
So, the Christian disciple learns from and follows Christ.
It therefore follows logically that the Christian disciple will imitate his
Lord and love unconditionally.
That's our part of the business. But being a disciple of
Christ is not like being a follower of a coach a football. If you follow Christ
and imitate him in love, that he promises you two things of supreme important:
The first is that you will be "born of God." You become
a child of God; and that implies a lot. Just as our children imitate us while
they're growing up, so we will imitate God as we grow up. It just takes a
little longer for us.
The second is that you will "know God." Think about
that for a minute. You know the creator of the universe, the Almighty. By his
command you approach boldly the throne of grace. One of the reasons you are
commanded to pray for those in authority over you is that you will thus
intercede on behalf of those who are weaker than you. Have you ever thought of
it that way?
Of course, the definitive test of whether or not you are
born of God and know him is whether or not you love as he loves.
And If You Don't
So, if you're a real Christian, you will show the same kind
of love for your fellow Christians and for those outside the church that God
shows for you. But if you don't, you show that you do not know God. You might
understand all the complexities of the Bible, every bit of theology, give money
right and left but still be someone who doesn't know God. The test is whether
or not you love same way he does.
On a side note, there is the question of how that love is
expressed. Let me take an example to show you how good Christians can differ on
method while loving all the same. Let's take the question of feeding those
among us who are homeless and hungry.
Many, particularly in the Catholic Church, hold this is the
function of the church as a whole. The individual is not necessarily required
to feed the hungry, but the church collectively is.
Others, particularly in mainstream Protestant denominations, hold
that the state should do this; the Christian's duty is to politically campaign
for the state to take charge of this.
Still others hold that it is the function of the individual
Christian to do this, usually considering that the church as a whole takes part
in as well.
As you can see, the method varies quite a bit. There are
pitfalls in each approach; for example, if you believe the state must do this
it's possible to ignore the hungry man standing by the roadside. So the
question of how to love (in the sense of in what practical manner we wish to do
this) seems to be left to the disciple. That you must love is a commandment.
Paradigm of Love
1 John 4:9-13 NASB
By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only
begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. (10) In this is love, not that we loved God, but
that He loved us and sent His Son to be
the propitiation for our sins. (11) Beloved,
if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (12) No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God
abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. (13)
By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of
God Shows His Love
There is a point in this passage which is often missed by
Christians. We are well aware of God's love as it is shown at the cross. But
have you considered this: how great was his love at the Incarnation? Consider
what it must mean to the creator to become part of the creation. It would be
like you becoming an amoeba in your campaign to save the amoebas. In this way,
Christ submits to many of the restrictions we take as normal. For example,
Christ is not bound by time except in the incarnation. The limitations of space
to the human body are also his. It is probably beyond our comprehension, but at
least we can pay it the respect it deserves.
Note, please, that God did this so that we might live
through him. It is a curious phrasing. Perhaps we'd best think of it like a
pioneer. The pioneer goes before us, cutting the trail. Without the trail we
cannot go. Christ did that for us so that we might have eternal life. This is a
high and mystic thing — but no less real for it.
Of course, the ultimate show God's love is at the cross. We
have to remember that this is not just a display of God's love, but a display
also God's justice. The atonement is not some meaningless ritual in which
Christ dies; it is the payment for our sins. This is the most important fact in
human thought. It is no secret why we take communion; we do it to commemorate
this sacrifice. It's that important.
It may sound perverse to you (it does to me) but a common
problem in Christianity is simply this: we say thank you to God for the
sacrifice, and go about our merry way. It is the common commandment and expectation
in the Scripture, however, that we will in fact act like God and spread that
exact same kind of love. Why should we do this?
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery — and also the surest
sign of the disciple. The imitation of Christ has been for 2000 years the path
of the true Christian. Indeed, it can be said that the imitation of Christ
defines the Christian, for "Christian" means "little
Justice demands that same love. Think of it this way: he treated
you with unconditional love to the point of the cross. You will never be able
to repay him, or even duplicate what he has done. Is it not just, then, that
you should act as he acted? Fair is fair.
Perhaps most interesting of all is this: love is the weapon of
God. Hate is the weapon of Satan. You can tell which side the soldier is on by
the weapons he uses.
That last item is particularly important. But please to
remember that nothing in the Scripture guarantees you an easy time of being a
Christian. He never promised you a rose garden; but He is well acquainted with
No One Has Seen God
It's true that no one can physically see God. But they can
see us. If the love of God abounds in your heart they will know what God is
like by watching you. Consider: your children often act as mirrors of your own
personality. Have you ever had someone say that you recognize your kid because
he looks just like you? Or more to the point, acts just like you? The children
of God act like God.
Some may object that this is quite impossible. How can I
love like God loves? Take a look at the passage again: "His love is
perfected in us." There is the secret to the problem. It's not that one
day one of being a Christian you act exactly like God does. It is that your
being slowly perfected, tuned for a purpose, and as you grow his love will show
from you more and more.
How do you do this? This is one of the functions of the Holy
Spirit and that's why John tells us here to listen to the Holy Spirit. Why do
we do this?
First, the Holy Spirit is our guarantee of eternal life. We have
a connection with God the Father through the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit has a function within us of convicting us of sin
and correcting our faults. This takes time. But please understand the process
is under God's control, as much as you will allow the Holy Spirit to lead you.
So it is that we are to "abide in Him." Note the
verb in that sentence: abide. It carries with it a sense of calm and peace; it
means that we are at home with the Holy Spirit. This only happens when the Holy
Spirit is at home with you.